Dairy Excel: Which works best? Decision-making takes varying styles


Where was it ever written that a manager of a farm operation had to make every decision?

Depending on how many employees one has Dairy Excel training tells us that making all the decisions alone will put a manager on “overload” real quick. So, how do we get away not making every decision since decision-making is the crux of management in any enterprise?

Consider shared decision-making with employees. It can improve the acceptance of decisions, boost worker motivation and self esteem, and improve interpersonal relations with employees.

The question is, can an operation change decision-making processes with all the external influences in an operation? It may not be easy.

Involving people in decision-making transfers power to subordinates. This is difficult/impossible for some managers to do. A strict separation of manager and employee roles sends a message to workers that they are only responsible for what they are specifically told to do.

“Boss” syndrome. The question one must ask themselves is, how much more milk would be made, damage to equipment avoided and spoilage reduced if the minds of all the employees were tapped?

Let’s cover five levels of employee involvement in the decision-making philosophy.

Remember that management picks to what extent to involve other workers. If in fact one finds a decision making style in the text that “sounds familiar” and decision are not going well, why not try the next level and see if things improve?

Caution is in order because if your employees aren’t ready for change it could be a struggle.

Tell or involve them? First, there is the “tell them” style. The supervisor identifies the problem, considers alternative solutions, chooses one, and reports how changes will be implemented.

“Please go ahead and start baling now.”

Next there is the “sell them” style. The supervisor makes the decision, explains the reasons to employees in hopes to gain decision acceptance.

“Start baling now, it has dried enough to keep from molding and it may get too tricky to handle if we let it dry more.”

After that style comes the “check with them” style. The supervisor presents the decision as an idea and invites questions and comments. The boss has arrived at a tentative decision but gives subordinates an opportunity to influence the decision.

“I’m thinking of buying a new XK tractor. It has lots of power for the money and Joe says it is very reliable. What do you think given what we have to use it for?”

“Include them” style goes one step further. The boss presents a problem, asks employees for ideas and suggestions and then makes a decision. Again the supervisor decides but employees provide and analyze much of the information.

“Our records show that we had twice as many back injuries this year than in any of the previous five. Why do you think it happened and what can I do about it for next year?”

Last, but not least, the “involve them” style. The supervisor passes the decision-making responsibility to employees. I can feel the resistance already!

The supervisor points out the existence of a problem, outlines constraints on solutions and essentially commits himself to accepting whatever the employees decide within prescribed boundaries. The boss can participate but only as an equal member.

“We have got to plant all 300 acres by tomorrow and our planter is broken. Let me know if you guys can possibly get it done, how and what extra expenses we will have to incur.”

Varies with situation. Finally the appropriate approach to decision making varies with the situation – the problem itself, time pressure, and an organization’s traditions and values.

The problem itself may dictate how much employee involvement is necessary. Identifying the cause of a rash of equipment breakdowns cannot be done in one’s office. Complex decisions require broader involvement, but simple ones should be delegated to employees.

Job descriptions should handle routine decisions such as ordering supplies, stock culling, tank filling and so on.

In the short run shared decisions take longer, thus the time pressure enters into decision making. The quick and easy way out is the boss decides and we move on. It is no surprise to find crisis-laden farms operating under authoritarian “the boss” management.

The pattern perpetuates itself since boss-centered responses to crisis do little to develop staff involvement.

Finally, organization and values has a lot to do with decision-making. Organizations tend to select, promote, and retain people who fit with their prevailing management philosophy. “The way we have always done it here” has a profound impact on how it will be done in the future.

These three factors, time, tradition, the problem itself, plays a large role in the appropriate approach to decision making.

When and to what extent to involve workers in decisions are key management choices. There are several approaches. One extreme is “boss centered” style. The opposite end is high worker involvement in an employee-centered style. Which one will work the best for you?

(Questions or comments can be sent in care of Farm and Dairy, P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)

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